The End of Tourism?

Head of Research and Insights
Published 6/14/17
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From Copenhagen to Colorado, Amsterdam to New Zealand, destinations are confronting the impacts of tourism growth. Is it the end of tourism as we know it?

Copenhagen’s new destination strategy declares “The End of Tourism As We Know it.” Colorado’s iconic Hanging Lake goes viral on social media — creating a surge in visitor numbers, parking chaos, congestion and threatening water quality. Bloomberg News describes New Zealand tourism with a headline; “Too Many People Are Going to New Zealand. And That’s a Problem,” noting the country’s visitor boom has “put infrastructure [and the] environment under pressure.” The Head of Marketing for Amsterdam CVB, Frans van der Avert, notes, “We don’t spend even €1 in marketing Amsterdam any more… we don’t want to have more people. A lot of smaller historic cities in Europe are getting destroyed by visitors.” 

Three major causes are fueling this unprecedented growth in tourism: the burgeoning middle class in developing countries, a big expansion in airline connectivity (at historically low prices) and a shift by consumers aspiring to experiences rather than more physical goods. 

More and more tourism is connecting the globe and creating economic benefits – but is also driving unprecedented tourism-related problems with impacts on both communities and the natural environment. Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) and industry partners need to respond. For many destinations it is no longer about marketing to anyone interested in visiting, but in carefully targeting visitors who bring shared benefits and less challenges – and in working with partners and the community to carefully manage, not just market, to visitors. For many destinations, it is the “End of Tourism As We Know It.”

A quick look around the world highlights six best practices that leading DMOs are embracing in this new world of visitor marketing and management: 

#1: Locals are the Destination

Wonderful Copenhagen celebrates the concept of “Localhood,” focusing their marketing on inviting visitors to become “temporary locals” dispersed across the city (and throughout the year), using public transport and seeking authentic “local” experiences. They also emphasize the critical importance of closely monitoring locals’ attitudes to tourism – noting their very survival “depends on our ability to ensure a harmonious interaction between visitors and locals.” 

#2: From Marketing to Empowering 

In an environment of social media and user-generated content, the stories, images and suggestions of visitors and locals are primary driver of a destination’s public image. Tourism Australia has been a leader with more than 50% of the images and video featured in their advertising coming from visitors and locals. 

#3: Place Making 

Urban planners like Richard Florida have long highlighted that great places to live, work and start a business are also great places to visit. This integrated approach to destination development is called “Place Making.” With his latest book, “The New Urban Crisis,” Florida highlights the fresh challenges to making “Great Places” including housing affordability (made worse by tourism-related platforms like AirBnB) and rising inequality. DMOs need to work closely with government agencies and community groups and be part of the complex, challenging conversation on how to respond. 

#4: Dispersal 

Destinations like Colorado and New Zealand are more aggressively seeking to spread visitors out to lesser-known regions and remote communities. However, such dispersal strategies require not just marketing techniques like advertising or establishing new touring routes, but more practical efforts such as industry education, training and long-term product development efforts. 

#5: Promote & Educate for Off Season Travel 

Iceland has faced an almost six-fold increase in international visitors since 2000 – now 1.8 million strong on a small island nation of only 325,000 residents. To help spread visitors through the year, the Iceland Tourism Board has aggressively promoted visiting in the winter — including celebrating the cold, short winter days, Iceland’s thermal wonders and educating visitors on how to dress and prepare through their fun, quirky “Iceland Academy” videos. 

#6: Reinforce Responsible Behavior 

Reminding visitors of simple guidelines and respectful behavior goes a long way. Work with your industry to highlight resources such as the Travel Care Code, which offers 10 practical tips for visitors on minimizing their impact, or use outdoor activity resources such “Leave No Trace” in the USA and New Zealand. Or you can take a more light hearted style in reminding visitors of their responsibilities  see the Icelandic Pledge.

More Resources: 

Copenhagen Destination Strategy: “The End of Tourism As We Know it”

News article on Amsterdam’s Marketing CEO Frank van der Avert  

Three-part blog and video series on Tourism Australia’s transformation to a social media- and UGC-led marketing organization: “From One Spokesperson to Millions”

Iceland’s Long-term Tourism Strategy (2013) and Roadmap for Tourism (with a focus on Sustainability; 2015) 

Richard Florida is a keynote speaker this week at City Nation Place, a conference on best practices in “Place Making”

*Miles Partnership is a sponsor of the Travel Care Code